“I Give You My Body . . .”: How I Write Sex Scenes by Diana Gabaldon
Publisher/Year: Dell, 2016
What it is: Diana Gabaldon, the woman behind the Outlander series, gives a master class in writing sex scenes. She includes excerpts from her own novels and then breaks them down, analyzing the reasons why they work so well. She also breaks down different types of sex scenes, running the gamut from the down and dirty to sex scenes that don’t have any sex at all.
Why I read it: I’ve actually never read any of the Outlander books, but even then, I’ve heard about how well she writes sex scenes. I picked this one up because I heard Gabaldon discussing the book on the Authorized: Season 2 podcast on Audible. It just sounded really fascinating. There are tons of writing books out there, but not so much on this particular topic.
What I thought: Gabaldon makes a distinction between writing sex scenes and writing erotica, and this book is not about erotica. She focuses a lot on setting the mood and the scene, and her examples show the subtleties of her style choices. It was an interesting read, and although it’s fairly short, it contains a lot of good advice on writing in general.
The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan
Publisher/Year: Courtney Milan, 2014
Narrator: Rosalyn Landor
Length: 10 hours, 54 minutes
Source: Audible Romance Package
What it is: Frederica “Free” Marshall is a headstrong suffragette, journalist, and newspaper publisher. Edward Clark is, by his own admission, a scoundrel who cannot be trusted. Free’s newspaper and entire livelihood is being threatened by a powerful aristocrat, and Edward approaches her to offer his assistance, confessing up front that he’s doing so only to seek revenge on the man who ruined him years before. This is Book 4 in the Brothers Sinister series, but I just jumped straight into this one; the Brothers Sinister are mentioned a couple of times, but it’s not a big part of the story.
Why I listened to it: Hel-lo? Feminist historical romance. That, and it was universally adored by my friends the year it came out. It’s been on my TBR list ever since.
What I thought: I think this might have been my first historical romance novel, and I was hooked. Milan is a talented writer who pays attention to detail and carefully fleshes out her characters’ backgrounds. Free is a feisty feminist and Edward Clark is a rogue with a soft spot, and together, they talk about everything from exclamation points to living with PTSD. Seriously. And yes, there’s well-written sex. *fans self*
Married off in a mass ceremony at the age of four, Mili Rathod has spent her life waiting for her husband’s return. The two haven’t seen each other since that day twenty years ago, and since then, Mili has lived with her grandmother in a rural Indian village, her future as a wife up in the air. It hasn’t been all bad, though. As a married woman, she’s been able to get away with a lot more than other young women her age; her grandmother even allowed her to attend school in the United States so that she would be a modern, educated wife upon her husband’s return.
Her husband Virat, however, has moved on. How could a marriage his grandfather arranged two decades ago — a marriage between two children, no less — even be legal? Besides, he’s now settled with a baby on the way. His brother, Samir, travels to Michigan to find Mili and get her to sign the papers to formally dissolve the marriage. He’s one of the hottest directors in Bollywood, and he’s used to getting his way. But when he finally encounters Mili, he can’t figure out if she’s extremely naive or an extremely calculating gold-digger who just wants his family’s land in India.
Unrequited: Women and Romantic Obsession by Lisa A. Phillips
Publisher/Year: Harper, 2015
What it is: Part memoir, part investigation, Phillips explores the role of obsessive love in women’s lives. She begins with her own story: many years ago she fell hard for someone, was rejected, and kept pursuing him. She ended up sneaking into his apartment complex early in the morning and was shocked that he remained locked behind his door with a baseball bat, ready to call 911. Phillips examines how she, an educated and confident person, could have done that. She also looks at case studies and interviews other women who have done similar things and closely examines the gender-based double standards: former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak, for instance, became a comedic punchline in 2007; male stalkers, on the other hand, are universally feared and considered dangerous. Women who go through life pining over an unrequited love are pathetic and desperate, whereas men suffering from unrequited love are at the heart of many pieces of classic literature. Towards the end of the book, Phillips also looks at the positive sides of unrequited love.
Why I read it: It sounded like really interesting subject matter, and I was curious how the subject of stalkers would be handled.
What I thought: There are a lot of complexities to this subject, and Phillips does a great job of exploring the different angles. Some parts dragged a bit, but overall, I appreciated the historical context and the way she teased out the double standards. I also like that she split her own story up, interspersing each stage of her romantic obsession into relevant chapters. It’s really interesting how common unrequited love among women is; most women will experience it at some point in their lives (although not everyone will act on it).
Choose Your Shot: An Interactive Erotic Adventure by Christine d’Abo
Publisher/Year: Carina Press, 2013
What it is: This is the fifth and final book in d’Abo’s Long Shots series. I haven’t read the other four books, but they all revolve around a BDSM club called Mavericks, which apparently burned down at some point before Book 5. In this particular book, Mavericks has now reopened for business, and Tegan, one of the regulars, is back for its opening night. Each chapter ends with different options and lets you choose what kind of sexytimes Tegan will have.
Why I read it: To examine the book’s structure and see if “choose your adventure” books worked better in eBook form. (Like, for real. I’ve been toying an idea for a writing project of my own for about a year now.)
What I thought: This is the second “choose your adventure” type book I’ve read. The other one was a romance with hook-ups; this is straight up erotica. In theory it’s a neat idea, but I’ve yet to see it executed in a non-cheesy way. The options just feel too paint-by-numbers. And I know this is erotica and not a romance novel, so it’s more about sex than plot, but when you have so many options, the already weak plot gets stretched way too thin.
A GIrl Walks into a Wedding is the second book by Helena S. Paige, the pseudonym of co-authors Helen Moffett, Sarah Lotz, and Paige Nick. I was really curious about it because of its format, something I’d seen before in erotica ebooks and in children’s books (ha!) but never in print books aimed at adults: you’re given multiple scenarios and periodically get to decide your own fate.
The plot, if you can call it that, is pretty straightforward: your best friend is about to get married and you’re her bridesmaid. You choose things like whether your dress is tasteful or hideous, and whether or not to take the new guy you’re dating to the wedding or to go solo. From there it branches out even more: Do you want to have a one night stand? Is the guy you’ve chosen a total bore? Do you catch your best friend doing naughty things the night before the wedding? You get the idea.
As you can imagine, it’s pure fluff. I’d always wondered what this type of format would be like in print format, and now I know. It’s weird. You’re given a choice, then you’re directed to go to page__ for X scenario or to page __ for Y scenario; I think this format is better suited for ebook because tapping the link of your choice is less awkward than finding the right page and seeing a bunch of “The Ends” along the way. It also makes the book reaaaally short. The earliest point I saw “The End” was on page 97, and that included several skipped sections where you had jump to your scenario of choice.
A woman disappears, leaving no trace except her car at the edge of her cliff; she’s written off as a suicide. In the months that follow, her mother discovers a secret manuscript that her daughter wrote and is convinced that it sheds some insight into her daughter’s disappearance: that manuscript is The Bride Stripped Bare.
And that’s all in the first two pages. The rest of Nikki Gemmell’s book is comprised of the actual manuscript of The Bride Stripped Bare. The chapters are labeled as a series of lessons that read like a diary. It begins with a couple on a honeymoon; the narrator has had her share of lovers, but none know her as intimately as her new husband, Cole. Still, she has secrets that even he doesn’t know about.
By all outward appearances, the narrator is a picture-perfect good wife. She’s given up her teaching job and now stays at home; soon, she expects they’ll start a family. Cole brings in enough money for her to do as she pleases, and she spends her days working on turning a scandalous Elizabethan-era diary that’s been passed down in her family into a novel. But the doldrums of married life are weighing on her. It’s a chillier marriage than the one she’d envisioned, and her thoughts keeps straying to past lovers. The book she’s working on doesn’t help: the Elizabethan woman who penned it was vocal about her desires. It isn’t long until the narrator begins flirting with her own desires in the form of a handsome stranger named Gabriel.